Mr Mohamed Fahmy Consul-General of Egypt to Hong Kong Interview
In February 2011, the whole world was watching as Egypt overthrew the longstanding government of Hosni Mubarak. Almost three years have passed and the country that gave rise to some of the greatest civilisations in history is on the path of electing the second President, post “25th of January Revolution”.
A new era
This tumult has changed the lives of many Egyptians – even Mr Fahmy, who was living thousands kilometers away from Cairo when the revolution broke out. Mr Fahmy used to hang a photo portrait of the Egyptian president in his office when he first arrived in Hong Kong as the Consul General in 2010, but now that portrait has been replaced by paintings that resonate with the lives of everyday Egyptians.
“… shows by the Nile with the pyramids in the background – a sign of embracing a new era.”
“I think it is a new tradition that we have,” Mr Fahmy explains, “… I think the new generation won’t accept having a photo portrait of the president hanging on their walls.”
Egyptians have been told they can expect to go to the polls in Spring of 2014. Now, they can vote from abroad. Prior to the Arab Spring, voting was only permitted to those in-country. Egyptians in Hong Kong and elsewhere can now mail their votes to show their support to their preferred candidates, including the next parliamentary and presidential elections in early spring and summer respectively.
Two way conversation
With all these changes, the focus of his mission has been impacted. His first priority is to ensure people in Hong Kong that circumstances in Egypt are quasi-normal, even given the ongoing political instability within some parts of the country.
This is a challenge given the circumstances. But he is happy to do extra work to promote the new Egypt in Hong Kong. The two Egyptian Film Festivals held in February 2012 and September 2013 are the examples of his efforts. He has made presentations about Egypt in different academic and business venues through co-operation with the broader African Consular Community in Hong Kong. He has also provided arrangements to investors who wish to go into the oil business in Egypt, one of the prominent, unaffected fields of investment.
“But even with the changes in ruling powers, Egypt still has one clear direction in its foreign policy: China is still on the priority list of the new government.”
Mr Fahmy comments that ‘It is important to use Hong Kong as a jumping board into China or out of China’. Some extra work has to be done though, as Egyptians are not familiar with the concept of Special Administrative Region. Part of my job is to explain to them what is an SAR – Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR’
This is not Mr Fahmy’s first visit to Hong Kong. His connection to Hong Kong began as a child.
As the son of a diplomat, he spent most of his childhood in Egypt, but has memories of living in different countries – Austria, Italy and, notably, China. Mr Fahmy followed the family to Beijing in 1972 where his father served as the Deputy Chief of Mission. It was at this time he had his first encounter with Hong Kong and Beijing.
Asked about his first visit, he claims the childhood memories were ‘vague’, but stayed with him. After growing up in Cairo, he served briefly as a banker in Chase National Bank and Misr Exterior Bank, two joint venture banks in Egypt, where he realized he missed the times of ‘living in different countries.’ which led him to the Egyptian Foreign Service in 1987 where he trained to be a diplomat like his father.
Mr Fahmy was sent to Stockholm, Sweden in 1992 as Third Secretary of the Egyptian Embassy for his diplomatic debut. Sweden is very different from Egypt, but Mr Fahmy managed to make friends with the locals outside the diplomatic circle. ‘The Swedes are hesitant mixing with foreigners, but the moment they trust you, they will be so nice to you and very friendly.’
His Swedish friends also brought him insights to the country: “I witnessed the advantages of living in a welfare society in Sweden … also, they are very much in the vanguard about global governance, environmental protection and human rights. Even if they still have a monarchy, they have a very humble king and queen who are willing to mix with the people, at any point of time.”
As a father of three daughters, the Swedish means of educating children also surprised him. ‘When kids cry in the public in Egypt, usually the parents will feel very embarrassed. But in Sweden, kids can do whatever they want in public’ – this also made Sweden a healthy place to raise his first daughter.
Nairobi and negotiations
For Egyptian diplomats, a normal posting takes three to four years and diplomats return to Egypt before their next posting. In 1997, Mr Fahmy was sent to Nairobi as Second Secretary in Embassy of Egypt when he first handled some bilateral relation issues. Since the United Nations had their only third world headquarters in Nairobi, Mr Fahmy was also partly in charge of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Habitat issues.
He describes Nairobi as ‘the meeting place of all the problems in East Africa.” He dealt with the conflicts between Somalis, Southern and Northern Sudanese where the Egyptian role was reconciling conflicting parties.
The young diplomat also had the chance to attend meetings between the Southern and Northern Sudanese which was ‘important’ for his experience.
The other thing that still dwells on his heart from his stay in Kenya is John Garang, the head of opposition in the South Sudan:
“Sometimes when you are working, you can hear Mr John Garang of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) talking in the meetings…He had the vision of trying to make use of the vast opportunities for a better formulation of the political situation”
He was sent to Brasilia, Brazil in 2000 and missed the results of negotiations which could be one of his regrets, but his posting in Brasilia gave him a chance to apply his expertise in the field of economics.
He enjoyed Brazil, but Mr Fahmy seemed more excited about Moscow. It was 2002 when he arrived in Moscow. Moscow, once under the communist rule, was being transformed by President Putin and Mr Fahmy was there to witness major changes.
“I was amazed that it is so different – it changed a lot from what I used to hear about people queueing to buy a cake or to sit in a restaurant. My older colleagues told me that you needed to write to the Foreign Affairs Office to reserve a birthday cake.” As result of Moscow’s metamorphosis, there was a surge in Egyptian exports to Russia. The trade progressed ‘very well’, as Mr Fahmy recalls.
Egypt had long been a US ally under Mubarak’s rule. Diplomat asked if the bilateral relations between Russia and Egypt affected the connection between the US and Egypt. They were good relations with the Russians and ‘Our Country’s policy is to have good relations with all great powers and countries, we won’t hold the Cold War mentality of throwing ourselves to one great power only anymore.
At your service …
But interestingly, he is one of the Consul-Generals who puts his mobile number on his business card – a rare practice amongst diplomats, allowing people to reach him 24 hours a day. Diplomats, as their nationals’ ‘go-to’ resource on personal issues, can get some extremely odd requests. Mr Fahmy recounted the time he had a country woman calling him in the middle of the night, screaming “I want a divorce!”. These quirks of service didn’t seem to faze him and he smiled as he told the story.
It is not hard to see why people choose to call Mr Fahmy. Years of tangoing in the world stage gave a chance to Mr Fahmy to understand human beings deeper in general: “…dealing with all types of Egyptians and all types of backgrounds so you got to be more aware of how to tackle problems by knowing the right answers faster than usual.”
He confesses to us that the calls put pressure on him, but he still enjoys helping people out of their problems – “Helping people is good. Even if this cannot help solving their problems entirely, this can at least solve half of it.”
With his term ending next year, Mr Fahmy hopes to bring his learnings from Hong Kong on finance and tourism sector back to Cairo. Diplomat believes that the ‘yuanfen’, or fate, between Hong Kong and Fahmy won’t end even when he finishes his posting in Hong Kong. He will be remembered as a friendly diplomat who takes calls from people and then delivers – as he did for Diplomat and hundreds of Egyptians that he has served before.
Mr Mohamed Fahmy
- 2 September 2010 – Hong Kong
- 2005 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- 2004 – 2005 Director of China and Mongolia Affairs
- 2002 Moscow, Russia
- 2000 Brasilia, Brazil
- 1997 Nairobi, Kenya
- 1992 Stockholm, Sweden Education Background
- Certificate in Diplomatic Studies, Oxford University (Trinity College)
- Master in Near and Middle East Studies, London University
- Bachelor of Business Administration, University of Cairo, Egypt